Bella Vista Italian Kitchen
5801 S. Western
What worked: Italian and Greek meals prepared with obvious pride
What needs work: The marinara sauce is too sweet.
The Tip: Family owned and operated, this place is distinctly unique in atmosphere, service and quality.
Bella Vista Italian Kitchen’s neighborhood is not trendy. The restaurant sits next to an auto parts store and a florist with a carnicería right across the street. The homes nearby probably won’t be inhabited by hip young professionals anytime soon.
Inside, the Greco-Italian decor is a melange of enormous potted plants, gurgling fountains and walls styled to resemble Pompeian frescoes. It all adds up to an overripe retro look recalling Midwestern spaghetti-and-meatball joints of 50 years back.
“Santa Lucia” and other traditional Italian pop and opera songs played on the sound system. Owner Dina Korkolis was hollering at her spouse, Chef Milt Korkolis, in the kitchen. He was hollering back. There was no anger involved; it was just a robust give-and-take between working partners.
The place prides itself on being family owned and operated, and dining there is a bit like going to your rowdy Greek neighbors’ house for dinner. The raucous atmosphere never let up; it was both entertaining and genuinely comforting.
There’s no pretension at Bella Vista. The Korkolises don’t need it or have time for it. The place is popular and stays busy with regular clientele.
The service was fast and efficient with plates flying out of the kitchen. Bread is baked daily in-house and is included with all the pasta dishes. It’s brought to the table before the meal as an appetizer with butter and a small bowl of marinara sauce.
Pasta dishes are the heart of the menu, but they don’t come with a dinner salad, which is $1.75 extra. Order the salad. It was one of the best parts of the meal because the homemade Italian dressing is incredibly good. I’d buy this dressing by the gallon if it was available. Maybe by the 55-gallon drum. I heard a young woman at the next table order ranch dressing and had to restrain myself from giving her free, albeit unsolicited, advice.
You need only a few minutes with the menu to conclude that Bella Vista is a Greek restaurant, too. Although the majority of dishes are Italian, there are more than 10 Greek appetizers, soups, salads and specials.
Moussaka ($11.25) was served in the traditional casserole style with subtle hints of cinnamon and allspice. Eggplant and potato layers were rich with meat sauce and mozzarella. Other Greek dishes include the appetizer spanakopitakia, or little spinach pies ($7.25) and horiatiki ($9.25), an enormous authentic Greek salad.
The Korkolis family has close ties to their native land. They close Bella Vista every summer for two months for a return trip. Their olive tree orchard in Vasiliko di Kalamata yields extra virgin oil used at the restaurant. They also make their own balsamic vinegar. The resulting flavors are unique to Bella Vista.
The night we were in, Dina Korkolis recommended lasagna ($9.25) over chicken Marsala ($14.25). It was good, as was the eggplant parmigiana ($9.95) accompanied by a big bowl of pasta with marinara sauce. The sauce is homemade and among the best in the metro. But apparently it has been adjusted for American taste used to over-sweet pasta sauces from jars; it’s just too sugary.
Familiar dishes include linguine with white clam sauce ($13.25), chicken piccata ($14.25) and manicotti ($9.25). The ultimate test for a place like this is spaghetti and meatballs ($9.25). On that count, Bella Vista reigns supreme. The meatballs are tennis-ball size with a delicate texture and primo flavor. It’s just one of the ways Bella Vista distinguishes itself from places serving frozen food shipped in a box from the factory. Not everything at Bella Vista is perfect, but it all has the flavor of having been freshly and attentively prepared on site.
There’s a wide variety of pizzas, sandwiches and soups. Nothing on the menu is over 20 clams. Low-point Budweiser ($2.75) is all that keeps the place from being totally dry. If my eyes had been bigger than my stomach, I might have finished with Italian cream cake ($4.95) or more likely baklava ($4.95).
Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.